T to pay $400 million for mandated safety system

Feds will provide bulk of money in low-interest loans

MBTA OFFICIALS SAY a mandatory $460 million system to ensure rail safety is on track to be installed by 2020 but though they claim it’s an 80-20 split with the federal government for funding, the cash-strapped authority will end up picking up 87 percent of the cost because the bulk of the money from Washington is in the form of loans.

Bradley Kesler, the T’s chief railroad officer, requested a $10 million authorization from the Fiscal & Management Control Board for the initial management phase of the Positive Train Control system, which is designed to prevent collisions and derailments as well as employ other safeguards.

Kesler detailed the cost and the funding breakdown, showing that the MBTA would be responsible for $93 million while the federal government would provide $366 million. But, according to Kesler’s data, just 13 percent – about $60 million – would be in the form of grants with the remaining $305 million coming in two loans.PTC funding

Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA acting general manager, conceded after the board meeting that the two loans would be paid back by the T through bonding, meaning nearly $400 million will have to be borne by the authority and its riders.

“We have to pay it back,” Shortsleeve said. “It is a loan. It’s at the 20-year treasury rate so it’s a good deal but it is a loan.”

The cost will not derail the system because it is mandated by the Rail Safety Improvement Act passed by Congress. The statute requires transit systems to implement the positive train control by the end of 2018, though Kesler says the T is petitioning for an extension to that to have full implementation by the end of 2020.  If the agency doesn’t meet the deadlines, it could be fined as much as $105,000 a day for every day it is not operational past the deadline.

There was little discussion among the board about the cost and only board member Steven Poftak asked Kesler for clarification that the bulk of the federal money was in the way of loans.

But, unrelated, the board heard other plans to close the money gap for the deficit-ridden agency. The board approved a contract to install solar panel at 28 open parking lots and on the roofs of 9 parking garages. The 20-year contract would net the agency more than $51 million over the life of the agreement as well as save some operational costs related to maintaining parts of the parking facilities.

T officials also detailed the progress of the plan to reduce the administration and operations workforce by 300 employees. According to Jessica Stcyr, chief administrative officer for the Department of Transportation, 264 employees left through voluntary retirements and buyouts, of which 156 position will not be filled for a net annual savings of $13.3 million in wages but not including benefits. She said officials are eyeing a further reduction of 144 employees through various means, including “involuntary separations.” The total saving is expected to be $38 million in salaries and benefits.

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Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Shortsleeve said because the T is facing a $100 million deficit, nothing is being dismissed, including layoffs.

“We’re very focused on reducing our corporate head count,” he said. “Everything’s on the table.”